Those 76 trombones are sounding mighty nostalgic at the Goodspeed Opera House where a pleasing revival of “The Music Man” is currently holding court. Meredith Willson’s oft-produced comfort food of a musical produces plenty of smiles at the East Haddam theatre which, it turns out, is just the venue where classic chestnuts like “The Music Man” feel right at home.
With book, music and lyrics by Willson and story by Willson and Franklin Lacey, “The Music Man” finds fast-talking conman Professor Harold Hill (real name: Gregory!) on the move to bowl over the stoic residents of River City, Iowa to fund his idea of an all-boy orchestra. You see, that new pool hall that just opened in town is clearly a den of iniquity and the town’s morals must be preserved at all cost. Only by steering River City’s young population to the glories of band music will souls be saved. Willson and Franklin slyly poke fun at the Midwestern attitudes circa 1912 and the jokes still work in this staging by director Jenn Thompson.
Following in the formidable shoes of Robert Preston who created the role of Hill and will always be the gold standard for the part, Edward Watts has the vocal chops and slick smoothness while missing some of the dangerous charisma that makes the role of Hill truly work. As prim librarian Marian Paroo, who knows more about Hill and his kind than she immediately reveals, Ellie Fishman has the soaring soprano required for the role and hearts will melt when she duets lovingly with Watts on the standard, “Till There Was You”. Get ready to melt also for the quartet of Branch Woodman, C. Mingo Long, Jeff Gurner and Kent Overshown as they perform a blissful rendition of “Lida Rose” and steal scenes throughout the show.
“The Music Man” is good enough at Goodspeed to make you wish it were just a little better. There are a few slack performances (D.C. Anderson’s unfunny Mayor Shinn is one), but the overall impression is one of a solid, faithful revival but not a revolutionary one. Just about everything is perfectly fine without taking it up that extra notch to make the show truly memorable. To this end, however, one must note Patricia Wilcox’s superior choreography which may be the only aspect of this revival that does seem fresh and surprising. Suffice it to say she has worked wonders with Goodspeed’s minimal stage space. David Toser’s period-perfect costumes also don’t disappoint. Indeed, all said, there is probably little about this revival that will disappoint most theatregoers.
“The Music Man” has been extended at Goodspeed through June 26. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.